Laughing Out Loud

Image used under a Creative Commons license courtesy Capital M.

I’ve been meaning to direct y’all to Aylin Zafar’s excellent piece on the sitcom resurgence, which she connects to changes in the national mood and entertainment tastes:

But after nine years of drama overload, national morale is turning. Viewers are looking for relief, compassion, and healing from television; they’re battered from the rough last nine years, both in the real world and in the overwhelming entertainment world to which they’ve been subjected. Looking at a recent Gallup poll of American satisfaction with the way things are going in the U.S. , it’s not surprising to see the steady decline in morale after 2001, hitting a low of 7 percent in October 2008. The sharp increase to 36 percent in 2009, however, indicates a change in perspective about the state of life in the U.S. amid the rough recession. Just as we see the national agenda focusing on restoring jobs and boosting confidence and morale, we see our television programming mirroring these anxieties and the temperament of its viewers.

Shows like The Office are bringing humor to recession-based plotlines, appealing to the emotions of their viewers in a way that doesn’t just leave them feeling victimized, but indulges their frustrations through increasingly-familiar situations. There’s been a shift in focus from chasing villains and saving the world to focusing on the eccentricities in daily life on our home turf. From the group dynamics of an unlikely crew in at a community college, to the big dreams of a small-town high school glee club, to the mundane but endlessly entertaining lives of a group of nerd physicists living in Pasadena, reveling in comic boy fandom — comedies are appealing to the nuances of our everyday life with characters that are more relatable than ever.


One thing I’d be very curious about is whether studios have mixed up the way they try to develop concepts, or whether they’re casting the net wider for ideas, if only because the current crop of sitcoms is just so high-quality. I speculated for a while that a number of shows had weak seasons immediately after the one interrupted by the writers’ strike because so many shows had awkward ends to wrap up, but that the season after that was stronger, because folks had been gestating ideas for a while. I have literally no idea if that’s true, but if there is an exploration for why so many networks seem to have found strong concepts and executed them well all at once, I would certainly like to hear it.